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Crawling fish may be part of new family

Image: Newfound fish
The leglike pectoral fin for walking is the clue that this newly found fish is an anglerfish, even though it does not have a lure on its head for attracting prey. The fish's flat face and forward-looking eyes are just two reasons why University of Washington Professor Ted Pietsch thinks the fish found in January probably represents a new family of vertebrate /
/ Source: staff and news service reports

A recently discovered fish that crawls instead of swimming and has forward-looking eyes like humans could be part of an entirely unknown family of fishes, a University of Washington professor reported Wednesday.

The creature sighted in Indonesian waters off Ambon Island has tan- and peach-colored zebra-striping. It uses its leglike pectoral fins to burrow into cracks and crevices of coral reefs in search of food.

UW Professor Ted Pietsch said this relative of the anglerfish will have to undergo DNA scrutiny to verify that it is unique. But Pietsch, one of the world's leading authorities on anglerfish, said he's never seen anything like it.

"As soon as I saw the photo I knew it had to be an anglerfish because of the leglike pectoral fins on its sides," Pietsch said in a university news release issued Wednesday. "Only anglerfishes have crooked, leglike structures that they use to walk or crawl along the seafloor or other surfaces."

The forward-looking eyes were notable, he said. Most fishes have eyes on either side of their head so that each eye sees something different. Only very few fishes have eyes whose radius of vision overlaps in front, providing binocular vision — a special attribute that provides the ability to judge distance accurately.

A dive group including Buck and Fitrie Randolph, as well as guide Toby Fadirsyair, photographed the fish on Jan. 28 in Ambon Harbor, the university said. A second adult has since been seen, and two smaller fish of the same type — probably juveniles — were spotted off Ambon on March 26. The university said one of the adults laid a mass of eggs that was discovered Tuesday.

Reference books were consulted, but nothing similar to the fish photographed in January has turned up. Pietsch said the fish probably escaped notice until now because they were adept at sliding into narrow crevices to hide.

Images of the fish have been posted to the Web site for Maluku Divers, an Ambon dive company co-owned by the Randolphs.

This report includes information from The Associated Press and the University of Washington.